As if battling against a government they don't approve of is not enough, the people of Egypt now have another foe to deal with - One that they are almost helpless against - A thirty million strong army of Desert locusts that showed up on March 2nd, 2013 in the Southern region of the country's capital, Cairo.
Though the locusts who are on their annual Spring migration trek from North East Sudan to Saudi Arabia were spotted on the country's Red Sea coastline almost three months ago, their visit to Cairo was a complete, not to mention, unpleasant surprise. That's because experts had expected them to completely bypass the city, until a change in the direction of the winds, steered them off course, towards the Egyptian capital.
While they appear menacing especially in such large numbers, the insects are harmless to humans and do not linger over urban areas too long. They do however pose a threat to the orchards and farms that lie on the outskirts of the city, which is what has the residents, especially the farmers, really concerned.
Though the residents are trying to disperse them by burning tires in the hope that the black smoke will shoo them away, experts maintain that all this does, is increase the chances of accidental neighborhood fires. They are instead urging people to call the officials whenever they see large swarms, so that the more effective crop dusters can be dispatched.
There is some hope that the strong winds that accidently brought them here, will help blow them back towards the Red Sea and onto their original route to the deserts of Saudi Arabia. If that doesn't happen, than the insects are expected to next invade Israel, Jordan and Lebanon all of which, are on high alert.
The last time the area witnessed an infestation of this size was in 2004, when agricultural officers from Israel had to send out crop dusters to combat them. Hopefully this time around, the winds will do the job for them.
Desert locusts that belong to the same family as common grasshoppers have a Jekyll and Hyde personalty - When there is enough food available they are timid insects that live together peacefully in arid regions from North Africa all the way to India. However, the minute they don't get enough to eat, they change into monsters -Turning from their usual tan and green to a bright black and yellow and, eating each other.
According to experts this is what results in swarms - They are not trying to fly together in search of food, but instead, trying to escape each other. That's because when a locust feels another one at its heels it accelerates forward to escape - This action multiplied several million times, results in whole swarms flying away from each other!
But even so, you are probably wondering how much damage can these insects really cause? After all, a 6-9 centimeter long insect could not possibly consume that much food. Turns out, they can - Each insect needs the equivalent of their own body mass (2 gms) every day - and while that may not appear much, multiplied by millions it is devastating for the people that live in the area.
What's even worse is that their droppings are toxic to humans, which means that any fruit or vegetables they come in contact with, have to be discarded right away. In the past, they have been deemed responsible for causing many Ethiopian famines, which is why the residents of the Middle East and North Africa are very nervous. We sure hope the insects get blown away, before they cause too much damage.
Resources: nationalgeographic.com, dailymail.co.uk,wikipedia.org